|The Baal Shem Tov on Pirkey Avos - Chapter One|
|Written by Bentzion of Medziboz|
1) Moses received the Torah at Sinai and handed it down to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; raise up many students; and make a protective fence for the Torah.
Moses received the Torah at Sinai… I have heard the following explanation of this teaching in the Mishnah: It is difficult to understand why, when Moshe was first given his mission to go and liberate the Israelites from Egypt, he refused, saying, Who am I that I should go etc (Ex 3:11) – yet when the Torah was to be given (at Sinai) he agreed at once (to have it given through him). Well, the reason must necessarily be that he thought this was not a matter of rising in distinction and eminence, but a matter of lowliness and abasement. The proof (for him) was that Mount Sinai was chosen (as the setting for giving the Torah to the Israelites) because it was the lowliest, lowest and most humble of all the mountains. Hence he thought that he was similarly chosen (at Sinai) because he was the most humble of men.
T his is why “Moses received the Torah at Sinai” – meaning that he agreed to receive the Torah, not considering this as a mark of greatness but as act of humility – something he inferred from Mount Sinai itself. And the is why the Sages of the Talmud (B’rachoth 33b) taught that reverent fear (of G-d) was a small matter for Moses (that he achieved easily) – because Moses was born by the merit of the reverent fear of G-d that the midwives had (Ex 1:17; the Sages teach that one of het midwives was Yocheved, the mother, eventually of Moses); and also, since Moses was so very humble in his own sight, he thought that reverent fear of G-d was a small easy thing.
For this reason, too, we have to harken and accept words of Torah and moral teachings even from the lowliest of men. This is to be inferred from the fact that Moses received the Torah at Sinai (and all others learned it from him)
Tzif’nath Pa’ane-ab; L’shon Hassidim from The Baal Shem Tov on Pirkey Avos, Rabbi Isaiah Aryeh and Rabbi Joshua Dvorkes
14) He used to say: if I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? and if not now, when?
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?... During prayer we need to be divested, divorced from everything physical and material, so that we are not aware oat all of our existence in this world. This is the inner sense of the teaching, “If I am not for myself who will be for me?” It means: when I reach the stage where I do not know or sense at all if I am for myself - if I exist in this world – or not, then I certainly need have no fear f alien thoughts. For which stray, alien thoughts can reach me when I am dissociated from this world? (This is the sense of “who will be for me? – It means to convey, “which alien thought can reach me?”) “when I am for myself,” however – meaning when I think of myself as an entity of substance in the reality of this world – then on the contrary, I have no worth whatsoever. Hence our text continues, “what am I?” – meaning what am I worth? What value has my service and worship before the blessed L-rd? For then alien thoughts will confuse me, and I will be as important as though I were not in this world at all. For the main purpose of the creation of a man in this world is for the service of the blessed L-rd – and here I cannot serve or worship Him, because of the alien thoughts that are distracting and confusing me.
Another dictum of the Sages (Talmud, Sukkah 53a), “if I am here, all are here,” is to be explained in the same way
Tzava’at HaRivash 7a, 12a from The Baal Shem Tov on Pirkey Avos, Rabbi Isaiah Aryeh and Rabbi Joshua Dvorkes
17) His son Shim’on said: All my days I have grown among the Sages, and I have found for the body nothing better than silence. Mot learning is the main thing, but doing; and whoever talks overly much brings on sin.
Whoever talks overly much brings on sin. Here sin denotes a lack. Even if someone talks with people of the wisdom of Torah, silence would yet be much finer. For in silence he could contemplate the grandeur of the Blessed L-rd, and could bind himself to Him more that he can so bind himself by speaking.
Tzava’at HaRivash from The Baal Shem Tov on Pirkey Avos, Rabbi Isaiah Aryeh and Rabbi Joshua Dvorkes
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